NASA rover lands on Mars to look for signs of ancient life

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The spacecraft is called Perseverance, and is a rover that will land at a very specific location on Mars. By the time the control room got word that the rover had begun its descent, the mission had actually been over for several minutes. The spacecraft will take photos and try to find evidence of ancient life as well as study the climate and geology.

Its mission is to look for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples. The hazcams have dust covers on them, so the images are lower quality than those that should eventually come from the rover's 15 other cameras. It's not an easy task, especially with the landing zone being Jezero Crater - a wide basin filled with rocks that scientists believe was once an ancient river delta. All stages of the descent and landing appeared to go well, though the tension was evident in the voices of mission controllers during the live NASA broadcast. Any raw images sent back by the rover this week and going forward will also be immediately available to the public on NASA's site. The one-ton rover, about the size of a compact vehicle and protected by a heat shield, slammed into Mars's atmosphere at a speed of 19,500 kph (12,100 mph).

The first order of business after the monthlong commissioning phase will be loosing the 1.8-kilogram Ingenuity helicopter, now attached to the rover's belly. It's the first chopper attempting to fly on another planet.

Perseverance is NASA's fifth rover to explore Mars. The rover will also investigate Jezero Crater, which was a lake 3.9 billion years ago.

"This is one of the most hard maneuvers we make in the space business", Matt Wallace, deputy project manager of NASA's Mars 2020 mission, told reporters on Wednesday.

Perseverance had traveled 292 million miles (470 million kilometers) since launching July 30 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This rover is the heaviest NASA has ever attempted to land, weighing in at over a metric ton.

To try out its new design, NASA had to carry out extensive supersonic parachute testing from high altitudes here on Earth, a field of research that had been dormant since the 1970s.

The spacecraft hit the top of the Martian atmosphere moving at 12,000 miles per hour and had to slow down to 1.7 miles per hour seven minutes later when the rover softly landed on the surface.

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This is the second one-tonne rover put on Mars by the USA space agency.

"Being able to answer questions like that is the whole reason why I joined NASA to begin with", he said.

"I can tell you that Perseverance is operating perfectly right now, and that all systems are go for landing", Jennifer Trosper, a NASA deputy project manager for the rover mission, said during a press briefing Tuesday.

FMI's instruments are part of a Spanish-led consortium called Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a Martian weather station.

Nasa is teaming up with the European Space Agency to bring the rocks home.

Perseverance itself was not the only machine that landed on Mars today.

"It is not guaranteed that we will be successful", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Science Mission Directorate's associate administrator, acknowledged.

Perseverance will conduct an experiment in which it will convert small amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen, a process that could be a boon to future astronauts by providing breathable air and an ingredient for rocket fuel.

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